Dina Kaplan experienced what many of us have faced: anxiety, panic attacks, and high stress from a relentlessly high-pressure career. At her wit’s end, she packed up and headed to India for two years studying and practicing the art of meditation, which she has now brought to New York City via The Path (since we don’t all have the guts to venture out for an Eat, Pray, Love moment!). The new meditation hot spot teaches ancient techniques in a modern way, making it more accessible and understandable for fast-paced urbanites. Given how crunched for time most people are, it’s easy for meditation to be put on the back-burner, but you might be doing yourself a great disservice.
We asked Kaplan to highlight six ways in which meditation can help us with our everyday life.
Here’s to tackling our issues one slow, mindful breath at a time.
1. When you’re stressed out
When you’re stressed, it’s hard to make good decisions. Often you can feel the tension in your body. A number of studies show that meditation can actually lower the level of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body. Take a moment to close your eyes and focus all your attention on the feeling of the breath coming in and out of your nostrils, Kaplan said. Examine what that sensation feels like. After ten minutes, you’ll feel better.
2. Before an important conversation
“If you’re heading into a big meeting with your boss, or an important conversation with a loved one, you’ll have a clearer head — and a better conversation — if you take a few moments to meditate first,” says Kaplan. “I recommend sitting in a quiet spot and simply being aware of everything around you. Notice sounds, smells, and also how you feel. This will relax you and also help you pick up non-verbal signals during the conversation.”
3. When making a big decision
“Our minds are so full of clutter it’s often hard to tap into our intuition — which almost always has the right answer. To get away from living in the “should” — and towards living in the truth, I suggest sitting quietly for twenty minutes before a big decision,” says Kaplan. “Notice your thoughts by asking yourself, ‘What am I thinking now?’ And then, bring your attention back to the sensation of your breath. As much as you can, focus, very lightly and with a smile, on your breath. During this time, the right answer will likely come to you quite clearly.”
4. When in need of focus
“Mindfulness meditation changes the brain, making it easier to focus. You can start on this path by practicing the breath-focused exercise above. When your mind wanders, don’t be hard on yourself, but simply watch your thoughts float away like a cloud, then bring your attention back to the sensation of the breath coming in and out of your nostrils,” says Kaplan, who recommends giving yourself a good eight weeks of doing this. “After eight weeks you’ll notice it becomes easier to focus not just during meditation but all day.”
5. When entering a difficult situation
“Compassion meditation helps us rise above difficult situations. Before a tough conversation, I suggest spending ten minutes repeating silently to yourself, ‘May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I live with ease.’ Then spend ten minutes focusing outward, ‘May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you live with ease.’ When you do this regularly, it’s hard to get angry. I find myself having compassion for whatever makes someone act badly and wanting to send them love to heal their pain,” Kaplan said.
6. When suffering from beauty and health woes
“Telomeres protect the ends of the chromosome from deterioration. Unfortunately they shorten with stress and age and the shorter our telomeres become the shorter our lives do; the meditation practices outlined above promote positive psychological changes, which in turn increase telomerase, an enzyme that causes telomeres to lengthen,” Kaplan said.
In the same vein, Kaplan explains that skin is affected by our stress levels because it triggers the body to channel blood away from the skin, making us more prone to acne, wrinkles, and dry skin; meditation releases chemicals that counter the “stress” chemicals and hormones. “Meditation also promotes blood flow allowing blood vessels to relax and minerals and vitamins to flow, which will help counteract hair loss related to stress (stress causes blood vessels to constrict depriving hair follicles of the minerals and vitamins needed for healthy hair growth).”